By Brenda Weathers Hargroves
“I can’t wait to see you.”
It had been too long since Dawn spent time with her sister. She lived in San Francisco and Karin in Jersey City. They usually got together at least once a year, but recently her promotion to trainer for a large technology company had not allowed the possibility.
“Me, too.” Karin agreed.
I guess. Really what she thought.
Almost immediately after their conversation ended, the ringing phone intruded on Karin’s thoughts.
“Hey, girlfriend.” Hayley’s tone didn’t match her usual upbeat attitude.
“What’s up?” A response Karin usually avoided. When asked of her, she always felt like she was interrupting something. But the words came tumbling out before she could catch them.
Apparently unfazed, Hayley asked, “Wanna meet for a drink later?”
“After the day I’ve had, that sounds like a great idea. Roland’s taking the boys to a game, so I don’t have to rush home to make dinner.”
“Make it 6:30. I have a meeting first thing in the morning. Need to clear a few things off my desk and answer a couple of emails before I leave.”
“OK. See you later. I probably will have downed at least one drink by the time you get there. You’ll have to catch up while I fill you in on what’s going on.”
Oh, boy! I’d better call hubbie.
Roland picked up on the third ring. She recognized the usual loud arguing about a likely inconsequential issue in the background. Karin was certain their sons would grow to appreciate each other as adults if they didn’t kill each other first.
“Hey, sweetheart, I wanted to let you know that Hayley and I are gonna stop for a drink after work. May be a long night, so don’t worry if I’m not there when you and the boys get home from the game. And please, don’t let the boys eat too much junk.” A futile request, since he was as bad as the kids.
Didn’t matter. She would feed them a nourishing meal the next evening to make up for their transgressions.
“Do me a favor. Call if you need a ride home. I know how you ladies get.”
“Oh, and how is that?”
Why did I bother? I know what’s coming.
“Need I remind you of the selfie you two took the last time you stopped for a drink?”
“Oh no, there’ll be none of that. I need a clear head for my meeting in the morning.”
“Probably a good thing.”
Baby, hell. He’s never going to let me live that night down.
Karin loved the warm and fuzzy feeling she experienced every time she entered her favorite bar and grill. Casey’s enthusiastic greeting, coupled with the fact that she and her girlfriends had been congregating there since they reached drinking age, added to her comfort level. She weaved past a few familiar faces on the way to her posse’s favorite table. True to her word, Hayley spotted Karin, chugged the last of her drink, then daintily placed the glass on the table.
Karin smooched her friend and slid into the seat across from her. “What’s got you so ready to rock and roll?”
“I have a dilemma that requires alcohol.”
“You’re not alone. So do I.”
“Well then, let’s drink up.” Hayley signaled for the server.
After taking a sip, Karin asked, “So, what’s the deal?”
“You know, I’ve been complaining for a while about my husband’s apparent disinterest in our marriage. Well, I met this tall, dark, handsome creature who acts like he appreciates me. So, I’m considering having an affair.”
“Shh, not so loud.”
Karin squealed again, only lower, “You what?”
“So far, I’ve only thought about it. But saying it out loud increases the idea’s potential.”
“Hayley, I know you haven’t been happy. But an affair? Have you tried talking to Greg?”
“Yes, it’s like talking to our dog, who, by the way, pays me more attention.”
“Well, what about couples’ therapy?”
“Karin, you know how men usually feel about that. Well, Greg’s opposition level is about ten times the usual.”
“Yeah, but I don’t think an affair is the answer.”
“So then, what do you think is the answer?”
Karin sighed and picked up her drink, distressed by her inability to offer an instant solution.
Seemingly aware of her friend’s discomfort, Hayley offered. “We can talk more later. Like I said, I’m only considering it. And frankly, I don’t know if I could really go through with it, anyway.”
“Well, that’s a relief.”
“So, I see I didn’t have to twist your arm to get you here. What’s got your panties in a wad?”
Karin giggled. “What does that even mean?”
“I don’t know, girl. I’m starting to sound like my parents.” Hayley took a sip. “Seriously, I thought you would say no. You rarely like to hang out when you have an early morning commitment.”
Karin sighed. “I spoke to Dawn today. She’s coming to visit.”
“That’s good, right? You two haven’t seen each other in a while.”
“I suppose so.” Karin sighed again. “It’s not that I don’t want to see her. But things aren’t going great in my life right now. It’s been five years and my nonprofit is not yet generating sufficient funding to make the difference I was hoping for. My house always looks like a cyclone passed through. I’m gaining weight and don’t have the time or the energy to exercise.”
“What does all that have to do with seeing Dawn?”
“She has the perfect job. The perfect home. The perfect life. She always looks like she just stepped out of a Vogue ad. Everything about her is… perfect. It makes me feel so inadequate. But, you know what trumps all of that? I’m definitely not in the mood for how my mother is going to act.”
“You’re being silly about Dawn. But I have to admit, you may be right about your mom.”
“My parents never made a secret of their preference for Dawn. Dad is gone, but Mom’s attitude and actions have not changed. The way she fawns over Dawn makes me nauseous.”
Well into her second drink, Hayley obviously can’t help herself. “Fawns over Dawn? Poetry in motion.”
“Stop kidding around. I’m serious.”
“I know you are. I just thought I would lighten the mood.” Hayley lifted her glass once more.
“I know what you mean. We are a sad pair.”
“I’ll drink to that.” They clinked and sipped.
The sisters agreed to meet at the airport underground arrival area. Watching Dawn casually exit the building, Karin silently acknowledged that she really was glad to see her sister. Even though, as always, Dawn was all that. Skinny jeans, an oversized bright white blouse, and red cardigan draped across her shoulders proved she even made casual dressing look chic.
They silly grinned at each other, then hugged.
Karin lifted Dawn’s shoulder bag from her arm. “How was the trip?”
“OK. Still not a fan of flying. You would think with all the traveling I do for work, I would be a better passenger.”
All the traveling… Now Karin, let’s not be petty. You know she didn’t mean anything.
“Well, I’m glad you arrived in one piece. And I’m sure Mom will be, too.”
“I wanted to crash at your house, but you know Gloria. ‘I insist you stay with me.’ I only agreed because she’s been so lonely since Dad died.”
Karin smiled at her sister’s referral to their mother by her first name. “It’s just as well. The boys’ constant bickering would probably drive you crazy. I know it does me. Sometimes I want to shoot both of them to put me out of my misery.
Dawn laughed. “How are my nephews?”
“They’re fine. Probably working on being placed on punishment as we speak.”
“I’m sure it’s not that bad.”
“You don’t have to live with them. I do love them, but sometimes I want to ground them until they are adults.” Karin sighed. “Anyway, we’ll have to plan a sister’s getaway while you’re here. How long are you staying?”
“The conference is Wednesday and Thursday. I took Friday off. Flying back on Sunday.”
“Let’s go to dinner on Friday evening.”
“Works for me.”
They solidified logistics on the way to their mother’s house.
“Mom was worried about saving me the expense of renting a car. I tried to tell her the job would pay for an Uber, but she insisted on dropping me off and picking me up from the conference. ‘That way, you don’t have to be at the mercy of a stranger.’”
This time Karin laughed at Dawn’s Gloria imitation. “You sound just like her. OK. So, I’ll pick you up on Friday evening. We can stop by the house before heading to the restaurant. Give you a chance to see Roland and the boys.”
After snatching open the door, their mom made a beeline for her youngest daughter, smothering her with a big hug before Dawn had the chance to put her suitcase down.
“I’m so glad you’re here. It’s been too long since we’ve seen you.”
Gloria turned to her other daughter. “Hi, Karin. How are you doing?”
“What, no hug for me?”
“Of course, dear. Come here, silly.”
Hugs completed, Gloria announced, “Dinner will be ready in about 15 minutes. Let’s sit in the living room for a bit.” After they sat, she continued in a voice that oozed enthusiasm. “So Dawn, tell us what’s going on with you. How’s work?”
Dawn relayed a brief commentary about life and work, after which Gloria turned to Karin and said, “And how are things going with your little nonprofit?”
“My little nonprofit is doing fine. As a matter of fact, I have a meeting with a potential funder tomorrow morning. He’s expressed interest in making a sizable donation.”
Gloria patted her daughter’s knee. “That’s nice. I think dinner is ready. Shall we?”
Dawn’s shrug was noncommittal, but Karin’s facial expression openly expressed what she felt.
Gloria, on the other hand, didn’t appear to notice either reaction as they stood and headed for the kitchen.
“Yeah! It’s Friday.” Dawn commented on their way to the restaurant. “My presentation went well. I made a few promising contacts. But I’m glad it’s over and ready for a drink.”
“I can’t get too sloshed,” Karin warned. “My husband already thinks I’m an alcoholic.”
“Don’t worry. We won’t take any pictures.” Dawn teased.
“Roland told you about that?”
“You know he did.”
“I’m going to kill him.”
“You can’t murder the father of your children.”
“I guess not, but I can dream.”
Karin was content to return to Casey’s, but Dawn suggested they splurge on fancy dining and insisted on paying. A tantalizing aroma teased as they entered L’Italia. Hoboken’s recently opened upscale restaurant specialized in Northern Italy cuisine, but customers could also order traditional standbys like lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs.
“I’m sorry Mom was so condescending the other night.”
Karin glanced up from the menu. “No need for you to be sorry.”
“I know. But it made me feel bad.”
“She’s always like that.” Karin’s wound resurfaced. “We both know Mom and Dad always favored you over me.” The floodgate opened. “I’ve never told you this, but I woke up one night when we were kids and heard them talking. Mom was blaming me for an incident that happened earlier that day, which was really your fault. I remember crying myself back to sleep.”
“Really?” Dawn lost interest in the menu.
“And that’s not all.” Karin continued. “They attended your college graduation and took us to dinner afterwards. Well, I couldn’t find either of them after my graduation ceremony. While all the other students were receiving congratulations, taking pictures and enjoying their family, I cried my way back to the dorm. They later told me they left early to avoid the traffic going home.”
“I remember that day. I couldn’t make the ceremony, but you and I celebrated the night before. Why didn’t you tell me?” Dawn asked.
“I was too hurt to talk about it. And, after all these years, I have to admit it still hurts and pisses me off when I think about it.”
The server cleared his throat. His expression revealed obvious discomfort at having interrupted their intimate conversation. He took their orders and scurried away.
Dawn admitted, “I don’t blame you for being hurt or pissed. What else haven’t you told me?”
Karin took a breath. “Mom and Dad sent you a $1,000 check as a wedding gift. Well, guess how much they sent Roland and me?”
“You’re kidding!” Dawn scowled. “Not that it did us much good.”
“I’m older, yet Mom introduced you first at Dad’s surprise birthday party.”
Dawn grinned. “Well, that’s not quite as damning, but it might be telling.”
“I know it’s a picky example, but the situation has been going on so long that everything adds fuel to the fire.”
“I hear you.” A brief pause followed before Dawn spoke again. “You want to know the truth? That’s why I moved to San Francisco. Their expectations were always so high. I was suffocating from being put on a pedestal. It was worse when you left for college. I was so lonely. Duke was my only friend.”
Karin grinned at the mention of their childhood buddy. “I know what you mean. I often felt the same way when he licked my face.”
“I would take him for long walks and confess all my frustration. He always looked at me like he understood.”
“Don’t get me wrong.” A single tear worked its way down Karin’s cheek. “I love you and I am extremely proud of you. I just wish…”
“I do too, sis.” Dawn’s teardrop followed.
“And I don’t blame you in any way for their behavior. But I always get a knot in my stomach before your visits because I know it will be more of the same.”
They shared sniffles before Dawn responded. “Well, if it’s any consolation, I want you to know how extremely proud I am of you. My job is OK, but your nonprofit genuinely helps people. You go home every night to a loving family, even though they sometimes get on your nerves. I’m divorced and go home to the TV.”
“Thanks, sis. I really appreciate you saying that.”
“Mom doesn’t get it, but I do.” Dawn hesitated, then softly added, “Perhaps she should hear this instead of me.”
The server returned with their entrées. They ate in silence.
On the way back to the airport, Karin announced. “I don’t care what Mom says. Next time you stay with us.”
“Deal.” Dawn readily agreed, adding, “And we have to get back to visiting each other more often, like before.”
After hugs and kisses, Dawn headed off to catch her flight.
“Buzz me when you get home.” Karin called after her.
Karin watched her sister until she was out of sight, then maneuvered the airport exit maze and headed for Casey’s. She was meeting Hayley for lunch and planned to be already enjoying a glass of wine when her friend arrived.
“Sorry I’m late. And sorry I missed seeing Dawn. How did that go, by the way?”
“It went really well. We both got a lot off our chests and it seems we’re members of a mutual admiration society.”
“That’s great.” Hayley seemed happy for Dawn and yet distracted at the same time. “I’ll tell you about my weekend after I get a glass of wine.”
After savoring her first sip, Hayley revealed. “Greg and I had a long talk on Saturday. My concerns may have finally hit home. Probably because I told him his behavior was causing me to think about having an affair.”
Hayley winked. “I didn’t tell him how close I came. I merely dropped the suggestion as a potential solution to my frustration. I think the idea really shook him.”
Karin snickered. “I bet it did.”
“It turns out he has some issues, too. Not as significant as mine, of course.”
“Of course not.” Karin outright laughed this time.
“Anyway, it all worked out. We both agreed to pay more attention to our marriage. It’s just as well, because I really don’t want to become an adulteress.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that. I would be extremely disappointed.”
“Maybe. But you’re my best friend, so I think you would be supportive if it came to that.”
“So, it turns out confession was good for the soul in both of our situations.” Hayley looked Karin in the eye. “And I hope one day you’ll find a way to confess your feelings to your mom.”
“I hope so, too.” Karin didn’t want to spoil the moment, but she seriously doubted it.